John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
Commandments! How does that work for you?
Our nation was born in defiance. Think Declaration of Independence. Think Tea Party. It seems to follow that in our culture many of our heroes, fictional and real, swim against the current. Think President Trump.
A hero in American culture—a true man or woman—often acts alone. For them, no one else is worth listening to. A so-called “real man” follow only his inner voice. Caving in to authority is perceived as a violation of our dignity. Sociologist Rick Kennedy describes current American values with no shortage of sarcasm: “Obedience is a virtue — in dogs.”1
Defiance defines a variety of our most honored movie heroes: Rick Blaine in Casablanca, T. E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia, Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, Tony and Maria in West Side Story, Ariel in The Little Mermaid. The nearly impossible task for Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible is to succeed alone in a world where neither colleagues nor lover can be believed. He needs extraordinary courage to follow his instincts. There are cowboy versions like Shane in Shane and Will Kane in High Noon; and detective versions like Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry, Frank Serpico in Serpico, and Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon.
These defiant protagonists are the literary descendants of the character some critics have labelled the most important character in all American literature, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Famously, Huck says on the last page of his story, “I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it.” Huck typifies every pioneer in America who rejects the rules.
To what degree was Jesus, our hero, defiant? He definitely defied the hypocritical Pharisees and their man-made rules. But He also described Himself as always doing the Father’s will.2 He told us that if we do not obey Him, we do not love Him (see above).
Every American Christian has to hold in check his or her American born and bred admiration of defiance and ask themselves, “Am I less the Christian as a result of being more the American?”
- Rick Kennedy, A History of Reasonableness: Testimony and Authority in the Art of Thinking. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004, p. 121.
- John 5:30 I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.